Spider-bites. Arachnophobia. Insanity. A Green Goblin. Cold-blooded murder. It's all there in the first Spider-Man movie, although the film is generally considered a romantic adventure/fantasy. Even if they won't admit it, most people do need a little horror here and there -- the villains in the Spider-Man stories are among the most bloodthirsty, and audiences lapped it up when the film was released in the summer of 2002. It was perfection in casting when director Sam Raimi got Willem Dafoe for the role as Peter Parker's (Tobey Maguire) insanely evil nemesis, The Green Goblin. He was the best thing in the movie.
In case you aren't familiar with the set up, our champion is Peter Parker, a New York high school student who is a geek because he's brainy and wears glasses. Everyone has fun at his expense, from the popular boy to the bus driver. Parker's only friend is rich kid Harry Osborn (James Franco), who just happens to have his eye on the same babe (Kirsten Dunst, as M.J.) as Parker. Parker gets the superhero treatment once he's bitten by a genetically engineered spider and its' DNA somehow meshes with his, imbuing him with amazing abilities.
Every good guy needs a foil, and Spider-Man finds it in a Jekyll-and-Hyde style villain, The Green Goblin (Dafoe in a dual role -- he's also the elder Mr. Osborn, father of Parker's best friend). Still steeped in ham-juice from his role as Max Schreck in 2000's Shadow of the Vampire, Dafoe is perfect as the palm rubbing, chortling villain who gets to wrap his tongue around such fiendish lines as, "You've spun your last web, Spider-Man!"
Another sorta-kinda baddie, albeit an everyday, ordinary pedestrian one, is J.K. Simmons as the ever-barking newspaper editor who served as Spider-Man's outspoken detractor in the original comics. In the movie, he puts Spider-Man on the cover of his rag regularly, declaring him a menace to society. I didn't really get that, since it's obvious Spidey is a benevolent crime fighter. There is one scene which shows the nimble hero saving people from a burning building under the threat of arrest by the police, which just didn't add up for me.
While I did think the villainous roles were the best, the whole film is very well cast. Dunst doesn't have much to do other than wander down dark alleys so Spider-Man can rescue her from thugs, but she does well with what she was given. Franco is very good as the spoiled rich kid, while still maintaining a realism and some sides to his character. Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris are wonderfully homey and cozy as Parker's loving Uncle Ben and Aunt May.
I wasn't sure about the casting of Maguire as the nerd-turned-superhero at first but in the end, especially after seeing the movie on cable and watching the new DVD, I can't think of anyone better than Maguire. He's got a look of quiet, observant intelligence about him -- he's got the "still waters run deep" thing going on, for sure -- but he also brings humor and pathos to role (he even cries with over-brimming love for M.J. ... ick!). He's pleasant looking without being too terribly gorgeous, and basically seems like he could be a normal guy with abnormal powers.
Just in time for the impending release of Spider-Man 2, Sony home video is zipping out a triple-disc Deluxe Edition. It may seem manipulative, but hey -- that's showbiz. If you already have the other version of the DVD, is this new one worth buying? Well, that depends on how big of a fan you are. There is an awful lot of old material on the discs, mixed with the new. The interactive menus are very nice, if that counts for anything! There is also a Movie Money coupon good for admission to Spider-Man 2.
Commentary by Sam Raimi; and producer Laura Ziskin and Kirsten Dunst (Raimi's comments are separate, and spliced in). The commentary is interesting, but not very relaxed or playful. Nobody's laughing to much (although maybe they did, all the way to the bank).
Commentary by special effects designer John Dykstra and visual-effects crew
Theatrical trailer(s), TV spot(s)
"Weaving the Web": subtitled pop-on production notes and historical facts. This is sort of like VH-1's Popup Videos, and it alternates between "duh!" facts and several things I actually didn't know. The popups are pretty big, so I'd suggest watching this option only after you've seen the movie unfettered.
Music videos: Hero (Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott), What We're All About (Sum 41)
Filmographies & character files
DVD-ROM: Comic/feature comparison; record Your own commentary; countdown to Spider-Man 2; Weblinks
HBO Making of Spider-Man -- standard making-of stuff.
Spider-Mania: An E! Entertainment Special -- a little funner and looser.
Director profile: Sam Raimi
Composer profile: Danny Elfman
Screen tests: Tobey Maguire, J.K. Simmons & CGI Spider-Man
Costume and makeup tests -- This one was very interesting and informative. It's fascinating to see what the costume designers went through to get everything just right.
Gag/outtake reel -- Nothing stands out as being especially funny, but I do generally enjoy the gag reels.
Conceptual art & production design gallery
Costume design featurette
Designing the World of Spider-Man featurette
Wrestling match featurette
World Unity Festival featurette
Oscorp Lab featurette
Goblin's Arsenal featurette
Rogue's Gallery -- a fun look at all of Spider-Man's nemeses. It goes well with "The Loves of Peter Parker", which shows his various love interests throughout the years.
"An Exclusive Sneak Peek at Spider-Man 2" featurette
Spider-Man 2 theatrical teaser trailer
Activision's Spider-Man 2 PlayStation 2 game teaser trailer
DVD-ROM: Spider-Man 2 Activision PC game: play multiple levels from the upcoming game
Review by Staci Layne Wilson for Horror.com